Club football takes a break this week as a slew of international friendlies are played to warm teams up for Russia’s upcoming World Cup. There might not be any points on the line, but the big sides will want to sharpen their form in a bid to hit the ground running in June. On the rugby front, Super Rugby gets into the meaty portion of the tournament with some cross-nation encounters on the cards!
Russia v Brazil (International friendly)
2018’s World Cup hosts Russia face off against Brazil, who will be eyeing success in 2018 after their disappointing display in their own back yard in 2014. Brazil’s most important player, Neymar, won’t feature – so they’ll need to get a feeling for how their team will set up without their talisman. Neymar suffered an ankle injury a few weeks ago and underwent surgery, which puts him in a race against time to be fit and firing for his nation when the World Cup kicks off. Russia will also be raring to test themselves against a quality side so they can gauge their chances of heading to the latter stages of their tournament.
Predicted Result: Russia 1 – 3 Brazil
Germany v Spain (International friendly)
This fixture is a little more serious than Russia’s match against Brazil, as it features two of the most recent winners of the tournament. Germany’s team has encountered quite a few changes, with a number of their old guard having hung up their boots for their country, requiring some younger faces to cut their teeth with die Mannschaft. Spain face a similar challenge as new manager Julen Lopetegui will be attempting to find his best starting XI, so players on both sides will find this an opportunity to prove why they deserve spots in the squads that head to Russia. This fixture is probably one of the most equal, as both sides have certain quality but still have kinks to iron out of their lineups.
Predicted Result: Germany 2 – 2 Spain
Netherlands v England (International friendly)
One of the biggest upsets of the qualifying rounds for the 2018 World Cup was the abject collapse of the Dutch team, and their subsequent failure to qualify. Despite that difficulty they’ve been improving steadily, and should pose a good challenge for an England team that Gareth Southgate has to fine tune before the World Cup kicks off. Many positions in England’s team have several candidates available and these friendlies will be the ideal place for players to stake their claim. The goalkeeping position has drawn a particular amount of press attention because no English ‘keeper has looked too impressive over the last year, and identifying suitable partners for Harry Kane in attack will also be a priority. England should still have too much quality for the Dutch, but they’ll need a good performance to win convincingly.
Predicted Result: Netherlands 1 – 2 England
Hurricanes v Highlanders (Super Rugby)
Two of New Zealand’s most exciting Super Rugby teams, both tournament champions, go head-to-head in what should be an exciting encounter in Wellington. The Highlanders have had a fantastic start to the season, but venture out of their home-ground for the first time to take on the ‘Canes, who are 2 wins from 3 matches. Thankfully for us viewers, both sides have been playing highly-entertaining rugby and have scored plenty tries in their respective campaigns so far, so fans should expect an enjoyable affair. That said, the Hurricanes are a tough ask at home, even for the free-flowing Highlanders.
Predicted Result: Hurricanes by 5.
Stormers v Reds (Super Rugby)
The Stormers played arguably their best games of the season against the Blues last weekend in what was a close but entertaining match. They face a Reds team on somewhat of a resurgence thanks to new coach Brad Thorn. The Reds style has changed from a quick-ball, open-running style into a more structured hole-punching machine with the likes of Samu Kerevi leading from the front, and it suits their game-plan; however, the Stormers seem to be finding their groove after Round 5 and will be a difficult force to topple at Newlands.
Predicted Result: Stormers by 10.
NWU v Maties (Varsity Cup)
It will be the clash of the titans on Monday as the Varsity Cup table-toppers fight for supremacy in Potchefstroom, with the winners of the bout likely to claim a home final should both teams make it through. Maties and NWU have both already secured home semi-finals with Maties going undefeated and NWU losing just one game against UCT. Maties remain top of the table following Round 8, where the men in maroon had a bye, but they will feel less confident about their lead going into the last league round of the competition. Jonathan Mokuena’s NWU has sprung into Varsity Cup relevance recently after a close 35-31 victory over Wits in Johannesburg. A four-point win doesn’t sound too convincing but dispatching the in-form Wits sent a message that NWU is indeed, at least, the second best side in the tournament and can definitely challenge for the Varsity Cup throne.
Predicted Result: NWU by 10.